Balthus - Kings of the Cats
FARA Charity Shops are not only regularly donated fabulous works of art but we are also generously given many beautiful art books. This blog is about one such book titled 'Mitsou, Quarante Images' donated amongst a large collection old German books. The book was published in 1921 and this is the story of how it came about.Balandine Klossowska (nee Elizabeth Dorothea Spiro) had a hard decision to make when her marriage broke down in 1917. Left with the care of her two sons (Balthasar aged 9 and Pierre aged 12) she decided to leave Berlin for the Swiss capital Berne. At the start of the First World War Balandine and her husband (German art historian and painter, Erich Klossowski) had moved from their home in Paris leaving many beloved friends behind. They were part of the city's cultural elite of the time with regular guests including Pirerre Bonnard, Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide at their dining table.
The Klossowski household was a very creative place for the young Balthus, as he became known. Baladine herself was a painter and with both his parents being artists. It wasn't long before Balthus quite naturally started to express his creativity, pouring the contents of his childhood experience on to paper. At ten, Balthus moved again with his mother and brother to a small town of Conches just south of Geneva. One day Balthus befriended a stray cat which he called Mitsou. The growing relationship with the cat became a source of huge joy for Balthus and a source of inspiration for the burgeoning young artist.
By age 11 Balthus had produced 40 small paintings in black ink depicting scenes of himself and the cat. These were extremely accomplished compositions with remarkable draughtsmanship and an innate sense of perspective. This body of work sits happily alongside the woodcuts of the German Expressionists produced at the same time by artists over twice his age. The bitter sweet story of his friendship with Mitsou is told from the moment they meet until the day she leaves. Balthus' profound sense of loss is painfully conveyed with every brush stroke.
Maybe this image reflected the loss he felt at the break up of his parent’s relationship. We will never know. His mother Baladine, began a relationship with the Austrian-German poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke. On one of his visits while courting Baladine he saw Balthus' Mitsou drawings. He was so deeply impressed by the prodigious talent of the young boy that he offered to get the drawings published as a book - he even wrote the book's preface.
Rilke was an important creative influence in Balthus' life, becaming a surrogate father to him until Rilke’s death in 1926. Balthus carried on his artistic journey being accompanied all the way with cats often appearing as enigmatic motifs in his paintings. The self- proclaimed 'The King of Cats' Balthus is regarded as a 'figurative master in the age of abstraction' whose career was not without controversy.
Our copy of Mitsou will be auctioned at Christie's in Paris in May 2019 with an expected hammer price of 3000 Euros.